Wednesday, May 21, 2014


"Teach us to care and not to care," prayed T.S. Eliot. "Teach us to sit still." Long before that, Pascal had said that "all men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone." For my part, I pray for a university staffed by scholars who are regularly able to sit still for twenty-seven minutes and care about their writing. In fact, speaking strictly as a member of the public that the university serves, I find it distressing to read about the harried lives of scholars. They seem to find no quiet moment to compose themselves. They don't, finally, have the time, the freedom from worry, to care about what they are saying in their articles and books. All bad writing, perhaps, derives from the inability to sit still.

I know that there are many scholars who care too much. This, they say, is why it is so difficult to sit down, or to get up and take a break after twenty-seven minutes. I would remind them of the double force of Eliot's prayer: to care and not to care. We can only learn how to sit still if we resolve to sit still for a while, and for a specific reason. While we are sitting there, there are a great many things we must not care about: our teaching, our research, our administrative responsibilities, and all the other paragraphs in the same paper. The trick is to free ourselves from those worries and focus on a particular paragraph for a determined amount of time. We must learn to care about our writing one truth at a time.

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